Reflecting His Image: Learning to Love God

Nans Corner

What is your purpose as a Christian?

For some time now we have been exploring this very topic and have come to the conclusion that our purpose is to “reflect Christ” in all we do. We talked extensively about the continual war that goes on within each of us between our “self life” pulling us one way and “God’s Life” pulling us another. We found that the solution is to make “faith choices” to give ourselves over to God no matter how we feel, what we think or what our circumstances are. God, then, can work out our situation according to His will. Totally giving ourselves over to the Lord in this manner is really what it means to love God.

The Bible tells us that we are to “love God with all our heart, mind and soul.” This sounds so easy and so simple and most of us would probably say, “Hey, I already love Him! What’s to learn?” Well, loving God the way Scripture tells us is not easy, nor is it simple and most of us are not doing it!

The Greek word for “love,” used in both of the great commandments, is the verb agapao. (Matthew 22:37-39) Agapao means “to totally give ourselves over to something,” to be totally consumed with it or to be totally committed to it. In other words, what we agapao is what we willingly submit our wills and our lives to. It’s what we put first in our lives. All our intentions and abilities are focused and consumed with this one thing.

Loving God means “taking every thought captive,” making faith choices to follow Him no matter how we feel or what we think and letting His Spirit not only cleanse us, but also renew our minds.

You might think you are already loving Him, but if I asked you, “Are you are doing the above things,” how would you truthfully answer?

Learning to love God the way He desires is not an emotional type of love, but a total commitment type of love.

To Love God Means to Lose Self

Because of our ignorance of the different types of natural, human love, we often get our feeling and emotional love (storge) confused and mixed up with this commitment love (agapao). And, because most of us have great emotional love for God, we think we are loving Him as He desires when, in fact, we are not even close.

Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved God. But my love for Him always seemed to fluctuate depending upon how I felt, how the other person was reacting and what my circumstances were. I see now that my early love for God was really an emotional love (storge) and not a commitment love (agapao) at all. And, the more I grow in learning to love God His way, the more I understand that human, affection love comes and goes, depending upon how we feel, what we think, and what our circumstances are. In other words, one day we’re “up” and feeling close to God; the next day, we feel far from Him because our circumstances are terrible, others are treating us poorly and our emotions are out of control.

To love God the way He desires, means to surrender, relinquish and set aside our self-life so that His Life in our hearts can come forth.

A Scripture that sums up what loving God really means is Matthew 16:24. “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”

Here’s an incredible example:

An Example: Unconditional Love

Steve was a young man with a nine-year-old daughter, Heather, whom he loved more than life itself. Steve had, however, a very difficult marriage, but he wouldn’t consider leaving his wife because he adored Heather. Finally, his wife ended up filing for divorce and a bitter custody battle ensued. In order to manipulate her daughter’s affections and possibly the court, Steve’s ex-wife lied to Heather and told her horrible, mean and untrue things about her dad.

Shortly after that, Steve received the most hurtful, hateful and bitter letter from Heather that he could ever imagine. It absolutely devastated him because she accused him of all the lies her mom had told her, none of which were true. Steve crashed and burned for several days trying to decide how to defend himself and answer her accusatory letter.

He envisioned writing a sharp letter back to Heather, taking each point and blasting his ex-wife “out of the water” with the truth. He had the letter all written in his head which would have finally put his “ex” in her place. He certainly would have been justified by the world’s standards to do so.

But, since Steve loved the Lord more than anything else in the world, his conscience wouldn’t let him write a letter like that. In fact, after several days the Holy Spirit convinced Steve to write a godly letter to Heather telling her that if she wanted to, she could say mean things about him and even call him names if she liked, but that he would always unconditionally love her. Rather than pointing fingers at his wife, he asked Heather for her forgiveness for all the pain the situation had caused her.

After a few days, he received another letter from Heather. Only this time she said, “Daddy, I do forgive you and I do love you more than anything.” At the custody hearing, Heather sat next to her dad and they talked together the whole time. The judge was so impressed with the love the two obviously shared, that he ruled in favor of Steve.

Truly, obeying and loving the Lord always pays off in the end! We do reap what we sow, either for good or for evil.

Loving God means totally giving ourselves over to the Lord and submitting our wills and our lives to Him in everything.

Agapao vs. Agape

In studying the Greek verb agapao, it’s important that we don’t get it mixed up with the noun Agape, because they mean two totally different things.

The noun Agape means God’s pure unconditional Love and it’s always used as such in the Bible. The definition of Agape is found in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. Throughout Scripture, there is never a negative usage of the noun Agape. In fact, the word Agape was actually coined uniquely for its usage in Scripture, whereas the verb agapao means whatever we totally give ourselves over to.

But, as you will see in the following passages, it’s also possible to totally give ourselves over to things that are worthless, like money, materialism, pleasure, etc.

Look at the following Scriptures and see some of the carnal things that people in the Bible “gave themselves over to”: 
• John 3:19: “men loved [agapao] darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” 
• John 12:43: “For they loved [agapao] the praise of men more than the praise of God.” 
• Luke 11:43… “Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love [agapao] the uppermost seats in the synagogues.”
• 2 Timothy 4:10: “For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved [agapao] this present world.” 
• 1 John 2:15: “Love [agapao] not the world, neither the things that are in the world.”

And lastly,

• Luke 6:32: “for sinners also love [agapao] those that love them.”

Some current examples of things we agapao are careers, houses, money, pleasure and self.

This perhaps explains why so many Christian marriages are not functioning as God desires. Jesus tells us that the husband must love (agapao) his wife as himself and the wife is to revere her husband. Well, if the man is not truly loving God (submitting his will and his life to Him) as he should, then there’s no way he can love his wife as himself. Nor will she be able to respond in reverence as God desires. When the chain of command is not working properly, then the whole process falls apart! (Note: This does not mean that the innocent party is off the hook. God says we are even to love-agapao-our enemies.) To love each other as God desires means to lose ourselves (set ourselves aside), so that we can put the other’s needs before our own. How many marriages are really working like this?

Do You Love God?

If I asked you, “Do you love God?” most of you would automati­cally say, “Yes, of course I do!” But, if you are really honest with yourself, how often do you seek to put His will and His desires above your own? How often are you consumed with what He desires for your life and not what you want out of life?

Can you honestly say that you desire God’s will above your own happi­ness?

This question puts it right into perspective, doesn’t it? People everywhere are seeking happiness and contentment as their ultimate goal. Is this your goal? Or is it to set yourself aside and please God? There was a woman in one of my classes who really took offense at my statement that we should desire God’s will above our own happiness. She came to me afterwards and said, “Nancy, surely you mean our perception of happiness?”

I said, No, I really believe there are many times when we must choose to do God’s will over what we know will bring us happiness.” There have been many times in my own life where I’ve had to make choices I knew would not bring me momentary happiness. And yet, I knew that in the long run nothing would compare with the joy I would experience as a result of choosing God’s way over my own.

It’s as if God is testing us. When difficult situations arise and the other person involved is obviously sinning, God is not only interested in their actions, He is also watching our reactions. Humanly, we want to retaliate and get back at them. And, even though we might be totally justified by the world’s standards to do so, God’s watching to see what we’ll do. Will we react immediately out of the flesh and end up spiraling downward into the pit, or will we, like Steve above, catch ourselves and choose by faith (even though we don’t feel like it) to surrender our flesh and continue to walk by the Spirit? The wonderful part of this last scenario is that after we have dealt with our own fleshly emotions, the Lord will align our emotions with our faith choices and the result will be miraculous.

Remember what happened with Steve. The judge and the court ruled in his favor! In our case, more than anything else, we want the Judge and the Court of Heaven to rule in our favor. And, that only occurs when we deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow Him.


To be continued next month, “A Visual Picture of the Problem.” This article has been excerpted in part from Nan’s new book, Reflections of His Image: God’s Purpose for Your Life. See page 37 for details on this and other King’s High Way products.